Late For His Shift
By Peter G. Reynolds
Carl was Ron's half-brother, and they had been best friends growing up. That is until Ron came of age, and his "differences" became impossible to ignore. Carl was second eldest after Gary and 5 years older than Ron. Carl was born during the thirteenth moon, the "blue moon," a rare event in their family, and always acted like the Chosen One. He was the biggest and the strongest, but it didn't matter how big or strong you were. Clan Alphas were always the eldest male, and when their dad died that honour and responsibility went to Gary. Ron knew that decision ate away at Carl and was the reason he overcompensated by trying being the best at everything. He cast a wide shadow, and Ron was happy to hide inside it. When you were with Carl, nobody noticed you.
Ron’s dad, Tom, kept a tight leash on his children and forbade any activity that might give them away. "Look human, act human," he would say each morning. It was part mantra, part prayer, as they all knew what would happen if the clans from the old country ever found them. Well, Ron didn't actually know, but Carl had helpfully described it in horrific detail. After that, Ron never looked at spaghetti and meatballs the same way again.
The Clan Wars. To Ron, it sounded like something out of a storybook. Blood feuds stretching back hundreds of years. Clans with unpronounceable names like Dál n-Oaich and Síl Tuathail, and magic. Yes, magic. But not the silly wand-and-broom kind, real magic, ancient, tamed by only the most dedicated shamans, women warriors who gave up their ability to bear children to glimpse behind the veil and touch the power beyond. Ron's mother had been one of these women before she gave it all up to have him.
Ron pushed those thoughts aside and focused again on shifting. Time was running out. One long pointed ear had erupted from the left side of his head. His teeth now had grown twice as long, and he could no longer fully close his mouth, giving him a constant expression of astonishment.
This, as it turns out, was fortunate, as a Carl suddenly pointed to the sky. "She bleeds!" he roared. Ron looked up, the moon had darkened and was stained deep red. "Blood Moon." The words passed over the lips of everyone in the clearing. The world looked like it was on fire, covered in a crimson veil, yet strangely, Ron felt cold, a shiver running down his twisted spine. His brothers raised their faces to the sky and howled. Howled together in perfect harmony, the sound echoing across the emerald fields of their ancestral lands and through the cemetery of those who would howl no more. Ron howled with them, but he still couldn't close his mouth fully and looked like he'd just stepped on a piece of Lego.
"MY BROTHERS!" said a voice with an authority so absolute that those assembled were compelled to listen. Ron turned and saw his eldest brother, now standing above them on a sharp outcropping of rock. No, not his brother, his Alpha, his commander, the one that would fulfill the prophecy. The prophecy of the Dead Wolf.
Ron had heard the story a hundred times growing up but had never really believed the prophecy. Not when his father told it during family dinners (often to the amusement of waitstaff at Sid's Steak House). Not during one of his mother's "episodes," when she spoke dire warnings of the blood moon between spasms. Not even during this trip to their ancestral homeland, where all the clans were meeting, under a banner of peace, for the first time in 500 years. Like the clan wars, it sounded ridiculous, like something out of a poorly written urban fantasy novel.
But looking at his Alpha, silhouetted against the Blood Moon - Ron believed. He believed it with every fiber of his being. The clans would fight together for the first time in centuries, fight side by side against an ancient enemy, and his Alpha would lead them. He would lead them to victory…and… Ron's yellow eyes welled up as he remembered the words he'd been told so many times, words he only now understood.
His brother was going to die.